The new ‘Big Brother’

7 August 2012

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As a kid watching the Olympics I thought that Australian athletes were untouchable. They were real superheroes. Everybody loved and supported them no matter what event they were in or what place they came. Now as an adult during the London Olympics, the only thing I seem to hear about athletes are their failures and personal dramas.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The media has begun delving into the personal lives of our athletes and turning their stardom into a reality drama series, by focusing on things other then their athletic ability. It is quite ironic that Big Brother will be aired straight after the Olympics because the way that media are portraying our Olympians suggests that we can’t get enough of ‘real’ drama.

One of the most recent examples of the media’s exploitation of our athletes was the Melbourne Herald Sun’s front page fat taunts towards breaststroke champion Leisel Jones. The public and fellow athletes ran to Leisel’s defence in anger and disappointment.

Fellow swimmer Melanie Schlanger tweeted: ‘I’m embarrassed by the Aussie media having a go at Leisel, one of Australia’s greatest Olympians. Support athletes don’t drag them down.’

Although I was only eight years old during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I can still remember being in awe of Jones as she won the silver medal at only fifteen years of age. The media supported her all the way and it’s sad to see that age and change in body shape has changed that.

Even though the Australian public sympathised and defended Jones, I would guess that the next time they saw her on television they would’ve looked twice at her size. Although we may not mean to, we are judging our athletes on everything they do, and the media is encouraging this by revealing stories that are not always necessarily as big a deal as they portray.

The Liesel Jones story isn’t the first time that the media has focused on an Olympian for something other than how they perform or their achievements.

May I remind you of the Stephanie Rice twitter photo, the D’arcy and Monk photo and the ‘oh so dramatic’ Russell and Lauryn Mark rooming situation?

Not to mention the Grant Hackett special on 60 minutes, promising to give you the exclusive ‘about the night he trashed his apartment, the collapse of his marriage and the allegations that he physically abused his wife.’

He also won three gold, three silver and a bronze medal for Australia, but apparently that means very little when it comes to entertaining the public.

The time between the 2000 Olympics and the 2012 Olympics has seen a transformation in the way that the media portrays our athletes. This difference coincides specifically with the introduction of reality TV. In 2009, MasterChef Australia became the most watched non-sporting event in Australian history.

Nowadays Australian free-to-air TV consists of mostly reality TV shows like The X Factor, The Block and Masterchef. Audiences have become so accustomed to the highs and lows and ‘real drama’ of reality TV, that we don’t even notice when the same sort of format is being applied to the personal lives of Australia’s athletes.

What happened to supporting our great athletes and treating them with the respect they deserve?

Ian Thorpe was the ‘Thorpedo’, Cathy Freeman was the fastest woman alive, and no one was more graceful then ‘Madam Butterfly’, Susie O’Neil.

I say we need to get back to supporting our athletes regardless of whether they’re winning medals, have the perfect body or the perfect life.

They’re not the Kardashians. They’re representing Australia and as Australians we should support them no matter what is going on behind the scenes.

Sam McMeekin is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is one of upstart’s staff writers. You can follow her on Twitter: @sammcmeeks